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8 Home Upgrades That Don’t Pay Off

If your goal is to boost the selling price of your home, these home improvement project won’t move the needle. Here are the projects to skip.

Unless your home is brand new—and you had it built to specs—you can probably think of several ways you’d like to upgrade it. Renovation projects can make your home more functional, comfortable, and attractive. And all of these factors are important if you ever decide to sell the property.

However, not every renovation project is worth your time or money, and when you decide to sell your home, you may be disappointed to learn you won’t recoup the money you spent. Go ahead and craft the home of your dreams with whatever projects you like, but if your goal is to boost the selling price of your home, these improvements aren’t the answer.

Extensive Landscaping
Landscaping can definitely improve your home’s curb appeal, but if you get carried away, you’ll end up wasting your money. “Spending $15,000 on exotic plants, flowers, and trees won’t add any more value to your house than cleaning around the house and adding sod to create a well-maintained lawn that looks lush and fabulous,” says Ula Zucker Williams, a real estate advisor at Compass in Boca Raton, Fla.

Ditto for a waterfall that cascades down into the pool—and that’s because landscaping choices are a personal preference. “A buyer may care and give the exotic landscaping value, but the appraiser doesn’t care if your palms are exotic or not,” she explains.

Her view is shared by Christopher Totaro, an agent at Warburg Realty in New York City. “Once you go beyond manicuring the yard and adding a few splashes of color, you are spending the extra money for your own enjoyment, so don’t plan on making a profit.” If your lawn is brown, by all means, he says laying sod can improve curb appeal and help the home to sell faster. “But going much beyond that will be a waste of funds,” Totaro warns.

Lighting Bling
Buyers love light-filled homes (natural light in particular), but they’re not going to pay for your expensive lighting upgrades. “Beautiful chandeliers will make people say ‘oooh . . . ahhh,’ but no need to spend tons of money on expensive lighting fixtures that will not add value to your home,” Williams says.

“State-of-the-art lighting fixtures and fancy chandeliers can be replaced with inexpensive lighting from places like Home Depot and Lowes—just make sure there are lights!”

The Latest Electronics
Similar to lighting, installing the latest electronics is another upgrade that doesn’t pay off. “No matter how new it is, within a year or two, there’s a better, newer version of what you installed, rendering your upgrade obsolete,” warns June Gottlieb, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York City. “Remember when everyone installed the latest phone system, burying their wires behind baseboards? Today no one even has landlines.”

And she says it’s the same with AV equipment. “TV features and capabilities change every other year, as do audio components, and while the latest electronics are enjoyable, I don’t believe this kind of upgrade will pay off when the homeowner becomes a seller.

A Wine Cellar
If you’re a wine connoisseur, you might find value in a wine cellar. Here’s the problem: “Many people drink wine, and many do not,” Williams explains. And a wine cellar is only valuable to a wine-enthusiast. In fact, Williams says she recently visited a house in which the space underneath the staircase was converted into a wine cellar. Big mistake. “It was originally a storage space, and most people would rather it remain as such, since a wine cellar’s only value is the wine inside of it.”

A Chef’s Kitchen
To be clear, if your kitchen is out-of-date, upgrades can add value to your home. “But if you spend $50,000 on marble countertops and state-of-the-art appliances, it won’t increase your home’s value by $50,000,” Williams warns. She advises against going overboard with the most expensive finishes and appliances.

In fact, Bonnie Lindenbaum, an agent at Warburg Realty in New York City, is hesitant to recommend remodeling kitchens (and bathrooms) at all. “I usually suggest they sell the home ‘as is’ and include the cost they might incur in the negotiations,” she says. “This allows the buyer to renovate to their liking, the seller to put it on the market quicker, and both parties walk away happier.”

Extravagant Upgrades
Any type of opulent or lavish upgrade should be avoided, according to Nicole M. Christopherson, a broker at NMC Realty in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “Unique or ornate light fixtures, fancy hardware on doors or furniture, specialty tile, or water features like lawn fountains may seem like a great way to spruce up a room or entire house, but can often have the opposite effect,” she explains. “Adding these upgrades to an otherwise untouched room could actually decrease their value and make the room feel awkward and mismatched.” She’s in favor of switching out outdated fixtures for something more modern, but recommends moderate, universal options.

Vivian Yoon, co-founder and realtor at Highland Premiere Real Estate in Los Angeles, agrees. “Gold-plated bathtubs, toilets, porcelain tiles, or beyond-expensive faucets cater to a very specific audience,” she says. “Gilded ornate furnishings and insanely expensive wallpaper will not attract most mainstream buyers—and your goal is to appeal to as many buyers as possible.”

Yoon recommends simplifying your style to make your house appealing to the mainstream buyer. “If your style is too specific, attracting the general consumer will be more difficult, because they won’t be able to imagine how they would furnish and decorate your home.”

Wall-to-Wall Carpeting
Who doesn’t love walking on soft, plush carpet? More people than you might think. “Homeowners might be inclined to put in all-new carpet, as it’s a comfortable and affordable option to revamp home flooring,” Christopherson says. However, she warns that too much of it throughout a home can actually date it. “Sellers should reserve the new carpet flooring for bedrooms and keep something like wood floors for the higher traffic areas, something the new buyer would generally appreciate,” she advises.

Maintenance Projects
Maintenance is a necessary part of home ownership that you can’t avoid. However, don’t expect buyers to pay you back for preserving your own home. “You may need to upgrade your roof, the outside of your home, septic systems, or appliances—and this will not increase the value of the home, but rather keep it at the usual comp,” explains agent Mihal Gartenberg of Warburg Realty in New York City. However, if you don’t perform routine maintenance, it can come back to haunt you. “Failing to maintain your home, especially if broken items come up during the inspection, can cause the closing to be delayed, the buyers to walk away, or the price to be renegotiated.”

The problem, according to Williams, is that some homeowners see updated plumbing and electrical as home improvement, but she says it’s really maintenance. “Someone may pay more for it because they see the value of having these updates; however, spending $60,000 on updating plumbing and electrical will not bring you back $60,000,” she explains.

From Real Simple, August 13, 2021